Chapter 6

Posted: January 10, 2012 in Letters to my Mother by Rebecca Heath

Blaine Hall, Room B102
University of Washington, Seattle
Sept. 27, 1956

Dear Mother and Daddy,

I’m sorry to hear Daddy’s being transferred to California; at least we’ll be able to celebrate Christmas together one more time in Utah.

Is it ok if I stay at U.W. until graduation? I know you have to pay out-of-state tuition here and it would be cheaper for me to attend U.C. Berkeley, but I’ve put down roots in Seattle and would be sad to leave.

Tomorrow I’m going to an Andrés Segovia concert with my friend Frank …

 

I spent the three days before the concert in a whirlwind of sewing, rushing to complete by Friday evening an outfit I had barely started the previous week. The dress was a sleeveless sheath of black linen with a long-sleeved black lace top, one of those designs the fashion magazines tout for their versatility, picturing the sheath with a demure white blouse for daytime and the lace top for evening. No such mundane considerations had dictated my choice; I’d bought the fabric and pattern weeks before because they were irresistibly romantic, without the slightest prospect of ever wearing anything so elegant.

The Sweet Potato in Polynesia lay forgotten on my desk, and even David’s typing received less than its usual attention as I dashed from the cranky sewing machines on the fourth floor of the residence hall to the ironing board on the first, and back again. Norma marked the hem for me late Thursday evening, and by midnight the ensemble was ready.

When I delivered David’s typing on Friday afternoon, I was surprised to find he had company. Seated facing him – in my chair – was a slender man with a jaundiced complexion. He had straight, black hair, worn plastered against his head, and round, thick horn-rimmed glasses which gave his face an owlish expression. Dr. Jacobs – I recognized him from Frank’s description – turned slowly in my direction, inhaled languidly through a cigarette holder and regarded me impassively.

“Excuse me a moment, will you, Irving?” David rose and went to his filing cabinet. He took out some papers and handed them to me as we walked to the door. “I have only a small batch for you today; I’ve been rather busy this week.” He winked.

David looked at me, mouthed “seven-thirty” and raised his eyebrows. I nodded and glanced back at Dr. Jacobs. He was blowing smoke rings.

Frank caught up with me as I entered the elevator.

“I just saw your Dr. Jacobs in David’s office, or at least I think it was he. Is his name Irving?”

“So it’s David now is it”?

I didn’t reply.

“That’s Dr. Jacobs. Isn’t he just how I described him?”

“Identical. I recognized him at once. Ugh! The man’s positively reptilian.” I tried to picture Dr. Jacobs and Iris in bed together, but couldn’t conjure up the image. Frank accompanied me downstairs and walked with me to the door.

“David tells me he’s giving you sailing lessons.”

“That’s right.” I braced myself for the inevitable lecture.

“I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings the other night. To tell the truth I owe you a debt of gratitude.”

“For what?” I asked dubiously.

“For the change in David. I can’t think of another reason. He’s a lot more patient this quarter, more approachable. You probably don’t know this side of him, but he can be pretty testy. Everything’s so easy for him. He can’t understand how it is with us mere mortals.”

“Maybe you’re the one who’s changed. Maybe you know what he’s expecting of you and you’re working harder this year.”

“It’s not just me; everyone’s noticed. You know what? I was passing by David’s office the other day and he had the radio going full-blast like he always does, but he wasn’t playing his usual long-hair stuff. He was listening to popular music. I could hardly believe my ears!” Frank smiled at me with the air of a complicit Sherlock Holmes.

We chatted for a few minutes and I said goodbye, leaving Frank standing at the door with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his lab coat. “I hope you enjoy the concert tonight,” he shouted after me.

When I got back to the residence hall it was four o’clock, three and a half hours before David would be picking me up. I tried to take a nap, but couldn’t sleep, so I gave the dress a final pressing and took a shower, instead. After a hurried dinner, I settled down to the serious business of getting ready. I tuned my transistor radio to the one station it received, propped the radio on the dresser, and spread out my cosmetics, like an artist arranging his palette. First came the lipsticks, with their seductive names – Bora Bora red, Roses-in-the-snow, mauve ice – then the eye-shadows, foundation, an assortment of blushers and, finally a miscellany of mascara, eyeliners and eyebrow pencils. When I’d finished applying the makeup, I surveyed the results from as many angles as possible in a two-dimensional mirror, and smiled at myself with satisfaction. I swirled and twisted my long hair at the back of my head and pinned a red rose – Norma’s suggestion – into one of the curls.

The hallway outside my door echoed with the excited voices of girls rushing back and forth getting ready for their dates. From the bathroom one girl shouted, “Hey, Barbara, would you get my slip; it’s laying on the chair.” A phone rang insistently, followed by the hurried clip-clop of slippers along the corridor as someone ran to answer the call. Down the hall a door opened and the melody Ebb Tide came pouring out. High heels clicked past my room, accompanied by the swish of taffeta.

I looked at the clock. In a few minutes David was going to call, and I would go down to meet him, a little self-conscious, perhaps, and tingling with excitement. We would be stared at – delicious thought – for girls from Blaine Hall didn’t date men like David. I glanced at myself in the mirror one last time, at the reflection of the young woman in black lace with the red rose in her hair and her heart on her sleeve.

When David phoned, I threw my coat over my arm and hurried out the door. A short flight of steps separated the hallway from the foyer; I paused on the landing to search for him among the crowd of younger men below and stood watching him for a moment, unobserved, as I had the night on Sturmvogel. David was wearing a dark gray suit, and he was so painfully handsome that a lump came to my throat. I remembered a fortune-telling game I played as a child and changed it to fit the circumstances: if he looks at me before I count to five he’s going to kiss me tonight. When I reached three our eyes met and he walked to the foot of the stairs with his arm outstretched to take my hand.

“Kate … you’re … stunning!” In my excitement I forgot to notice if anyone was watching us; I saw only David.

Segovia’s concert was overwhelming. The music transported me back to Spain, moving me so deeply I was almost unaware of David’s presence beside me. He too listened spellbound, with the intense concentration I had come to know so well. We left the theater arm-in-arm, neither of us wanting to be the first to speak, to break the spell of enchantment cast over us by the music.

“What time do you need to be back at the residence hall?” David asked when we reached his car.

“On Friday and Saturday nights I can stay out until one.”

He opened the door and I pretended to search for something in the back seat.

“What are you looking for?”

“Frank. I wouldn’t be surprised to find him hiding here. He knows you invited me to the concert. Are you sure it’s a good idea to tell him we’re going out together?”

“I’ll grant you Frank has a nose problem, but as far as the concert’s concerned, he’s the one who showed me the ad in the newspaper; if it hadn’t been for him I would have missed it.” David frowned for a moment. “I may be mistaken, but I think Frank has enough respect for me to be discreet.” He glanced at his watch. “We still have two and a half hours before you need to be back. How about going somewhere for a drink? I had a hellish afternoon; I could use one.”

I didn’t want to go to a bar, but I thought I’d sound childish if I disagreed. “That’s fine, but don’t forget I’m only nineteen.”

“The way you’re dressed tonight no one’s going to question your age. Besides, just being with me adds ten years to you, at least.”

We left the car and followed the concert crowd to a cocktail lounge several blocks away. It was stuffy inside, redolent with smoke and the stale smell of alcohol. I felt for David’s hand so I wouldn’t lose him in the dark, and he led us to a table illuminated by the faint glow of a single candle. A cocktail waitress in a short shirt approached us holding a pad and pencil.

“I’ll have a Scotch and water,” David said, turning to me. The names of a dozen unappealing drinks came to my mind. Scotch and bourbon were too strong. Crème de menthe? Sickening. Cherry heering? Like cough medicine.

I hesitated. “Kahlua, please.”

“Straight or on the rocks?” I fancied the waitress was curling her lip in a sneer.

“Straight.”

When the waitress left, David put his hand on mine. “You don’t drink, do you, Kate?

“Not really.”

“I can change the order if you’d rather have something else. Would you prefer a coke or a seven-up?”

“That’s all right. I’m fond of anything coffee flavored”.

The waitress brought our drinks and a tray of hors d’oeuvres. I took a sip of the Kahlua and shuddered, for the drink was much stronger than I expected. I was ravenous, the smoke was giving me a headache, and I wished we’d gone somewhere else, anywhere but a bar. I watched David lift the glass to his lips and my body stiffened; the clink of ice cubes awakened painful memories, and I wondered if I was about to discover a new side of David, a side I wasn’t going to like.

After a few minutes of desultory conversation, David looked at me with a quizzical expression on his face. “What’s the matter, Kate? Every time I take a sip of this drink you scowl at me as if you were Carrie Nation about to attack a bar with a hatchet .”

“Nothing’s the matter; I’m just tired.”

“No, it’s something else. You’ve had that expression on your face ever since we came in here. If you didn’t want to come to a bar, you should have told me when I asked you.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say.

David persisted. “Are you afraid I’ll make a drunken pass at you or pile up the car? Your father’s in the navy. Surely you’ve been around people who drink, haven’t you?”

His remark stung me, and I lashed back in anger. “Yes I certainly have been around people who drink; I’ve been around my mother when she was too drunk to stand up. I’m quite accustomed to people who drink, thank you.” I lowered my head and started to sob.

David drew back as if I’d slapped him. “Kate,” he murmured, “I’m so sorry. Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“Talking about one’s besotted mother isn’t exactly a conversational gambit.”

“Do you mind my asking … is your mother an alcoholic?”

“Not in the conventional sense. I mean she doesn’t drink in the morning or go on binges or hide bottles in the linen closet or anything like that, but she starts drinking every night before dinner, ‘when the sun is over the yardarm,’ and keeps on until she passes out.”

“How long has she been drinking excessively?”

“Ever since I can remember. No, that’s not quite true; it’s only been in the last few years she’s continued drinking after dinner at home, though she’s always gotten drunk at parties. When she’s not drinking, Mother’s a charming and attractive woman, but after the first shot she’s a complete boor. She gets monotonous, self-centered and … she makes a fool of herself with men. I’ve overheard people making fun of her and … I just wanted to tear them apart. Her too. I’m so glad to be away from home. I can’t cope with her problems.”

“Is that why you tensed up when I ordered the Scotch? Are you afraid I’ll change too, or disappoint you in some way?”

“Scotch is what my mother drinks. I don’t think my reaction was conscious. Subconscious, maybe. I have so many awful memories.”

I finished the tray of hors d’oeuvres. David reached over to an unoccupied table and exchanged our empty tray for a full one.

“Go on,” he said, “if you feel like telling me.”

“You don’t want to hear about my mother; it’s too depressing.”

“Don’t worry about me. Let’s exorcise whatever’s bedeviling you; go on.”

I took another sip of Kahlua and continued. “We returned from Hawaii on January 7, 1948, my mother’s birthday, and some of my parents’ friends gave a combination farewell-birthday party for us the night we left. Mother got so drunk she couldn’t board the plane by herself; she couldn’t even stand up. I was so embarrassed I wanted to die, and when no one was watching I s-slapped her, hard. Then there was the time when we lived in New York City and my parents were giving a dinner party. I was in bed and heard a commotion in the kitchen and my father on the phone; he told me to stay in my room, but I got up and went into the kitchen anyway. My mother was lying on the floor in hysterics, covered with blood. She was trying to chop ice … she was holding the ice cubes … and ran the ice pick all the way through her left hand. I wouldn’t have believed anyone could lose so much blood and still live. I just stood beside Mother looking at her … I didn’t care if she lived or died … isn’t that terrible? My own mother and I didn’t feel any more emotion for her than if she’d been a drunk on the sidewalk. I didn’t feel anything at all. Then there’s the time a few years ago when we were living in Alexandria, Virginia, next door to an Air Force colonel, a psychiatrist. His wife and my mother became close friends; one day I came home from school early because I had an upset stomach and I heard Mother and the doctor … in the bedroom …” David picked up a napkin and dried my eyes.

“Your father puts up with this?”

“He’s in denial. He can’t cope with the situation, either.” I was trembling and my voice quivered. David looked at me gravely without saying a word.

“Do you remember the first time we went sailing on Sturmvogel, when I told you that talking about San Francisco bought back unhappy memories?”

He nodded.

“In 1944 my father was on a battleship in the South Pacific. For several months Mother and I lived in a hotel in San Francisco, just off Union Square. During the war you weren’t allowed to remain in a hotel for more than a few days because they needed the space for servicemen, but the manager liked Mother and let us stay. It never occurred to Mother that I should be in school; she went out every night with a group of naval officers and other unattached wives, got back in the early hours of the morning, and slept until noon. I didn’t have any toys or books, just one Porky Pig comic book that I read until it fell apart and some perfume bottles I played with as though they were dolls. Sometimes … Mother brought one of her friends back to the room for the night. I was too young to understand, of course. I’d wake up in a rage and accuse her of being drunk. She and the man would laugh at me and Mother would say she wasn’t drunk, just inebriated, only she was too d-drunk to p-pronounce it. You’re the first person I’ve ever told.”

“How old were you then, dear?”

“S-seven.”

David’s face was grim. “Kate, I’m terribly sorry about what I said. Something happened today which upset me a great deal. I shouldn’t have taken my frustrations out on you.”

“Something to do with me?”

“No.”

I waited for him to explain, but he didn’t. I wiped away my tears and finished the last of the hors d’oeuvres. David tilted the tray toward him for a better look and saw the platter was empty. Our eyes met and he smiled.

“Don’t they feed you at the residence hall?”

“I was too excited to eat dinner; I only had a small salad.”

“Nothing else?”

“The main course was chili con carne, very spicy; I couldn’t inflict that on you.” I knew what he was thinking and tried to keep from blushing.

“Are you still hungry?”

“Well… yes.”

“How would you like to go some place for a gigantic hamburger with lettuce, mayonnaise, pickles and French fries – but no onions?”

Dear David, he had the gift of turning my tears to laughter. Under the table I felt his hand reach for mine and I clasped it tightly.

We drove around the university district for some time before finding an open restaurant, and we entered just as the last customers were leaving. The waitress was a nursing student from Austin Hall. She glanced at me with a flicker of recognition and then turned her full attention to David.

“Are you still serving dinner?”

“We stopped serving dinner at eleven, but I can get you something from the grill.” She handed us a couple of menus.

David studied the list. “You’re having a hamburger?”

“Yes, please, with everything on top but onions. And coffee.”

He read the selections aloud, half to himself. “A roast beef sandwich sounds good; no, I had roast beef for dinner. I think I’ll order a hamburger, too.”

“Roast beef for dinner.” His words went through me like a knife. I imagined the four of them at the table, his wife bustling back and forth to the kitchen, bringing mashed potatoes and gravy to the dining room, the children talking about school and David carving the meat. I felt a surge of resentment for this part of David’s life in which I was a perpetual stranger. David must have caught my expression of dismay.

“Is something wrong?”

I debated whether to tell him. “When you mentioned having roast beef for dinner it reminded me you have another existence besides the one we share. I know I should get used to the idea, but I can’t help being a bit jealous.” I told him how I pictured his family at the dinner table.

“Yes, I had roast beef for dinner,” David said sarcastically. “My daughter went out with her boyfriend about five. My son … is staying overnight at a friend’s house, and my wife went to some faculty wives’ meeting. It was a Swanson’s TV dinner. I heated it myself, watched the news on television, and got ready to meet you. If you’re suffering guilt pangs over luring me away from my warm family life, you’re wasting a perfectly good emotion.”

“Your wife really wanted to attend a meeting rather than go to a concert with you?”

“I told you I invited her. She’s never heard of Segovia, and furthermore doesn’t care she’s never heard of Segovia. She doesn’t like classical music.”

“What if she’d accepted?”

David shrugged his shoulders. “Then I would have taken her, of course. It was a calculated risk, but the odds were in my favor.”

Whenever he spoke about his wife, David’s voice was edged with bitterness; his remark made me uneasy, but curiosity prompted me to continue.

“Does it hurt you to talk about your marriage? If it does, I won’t ask any more questions.”

“Not particularly. It’s ancient history. You won’t be peeling scabs off fresh wounds as I did when I asked about your mother. Mine healed years ago. What do you want to know?”

“Everything and nothing. Part of me wants to know all about you and part of me doesn’t. What’s your wife’s name? You’ve never said.”

“Arlene.”

“How did you meet her?”

“We met at a dance when I was in graduate school at Harvard. My roommate knew one of her brothers, and he introduced us.”

“What was she like?”

“Arlene’s father was – still is – a policeman in Boston. I guess you’d say her family is lower middle class, what my more affluent Bostonian friends used to call ‘lace curtain Irish.’ She was 19 when we met, the same age as you are now, which hardly seems possible. Arlene was far more mature than you. Now, don’t look at me that way. I realize you’ve traveled more than Arlene, had probably read more books by the age of five than Arlene has in her entire life, and you’re better educated, but the fact remains she was incomparably more experienced; that’s not necessarily a compliment, you know.

“Was she a student, too?”

“No, Arlene went to work right out of high school as a file clerk for an insurance company in Boston. When we met she was sharing an apartment with two other girls.”

“Was she attractive?”

David considered his answer for a moment. “Not so much facially, perhaps … you wouldn’t have thought so anyway, but from a man’s point of view she was … well, sexy. Arlene was popular and vivacious and I was flattered she paid attention to me. She seemed quite sophisticated to the bumbling young pedant I was then. I wasn’t a virgin, but I wasn’t very experienced, either.”

“Was she? A virgin, I mean.”

“Arlene? God no!”

“Were you in love with each other?”

“It wasn’t a question of love for either of us; it was just a physical thing. We’d go dancing or to the movies and then over to her apartment for a couple of hours. At the risk of sounding like an outrageous snob, Arlene wasn’t the sort of girl someone from my background would marry but, to make a long story short, she became pregnant, and I did marry her.”

I remembered Frank’s speculation. “How old were you?”

“When I got married? Twenty-four.”

I did a quick calculation. “But Frank told me one of your children is 18; if you were 24 when you were married 18 or so years ago, how can you be 47 now?”

David’s answer had the same edge of bitterness I’d noted before. “Because I’ve been married 23 years, not 18. Arlene lied to me; she wasn’t pregnant.”

“What!” I stared at him in astonishment. “If Arlene wasn’t in love with you why on earth did she trap you into marriage?”

“Arlene may not be brilliant, but she does possess a sort of animal cunning. She was ambitious and willing to gamble I’d be a success; I was her ticket to the upper middle class.”

“Why didn’t you get a divorce?”

“In Massachusetts? On what grounds? After we got married, Arlene told me she’d had a miscarriage. I suspected she was lying since she had no symptoms which apparent to me and I never received any medical bills, but we’d been intimate enough times so that … well, she could have been pregnant. I felt like a fool; I was a fool. She finally told me the truth several years later – she claimed she’d thought she was pregnant, but I know she was lying – and by then she was expecting our son, so divorce was out of the question. Anyway, Arlene is a Catholic and we had a big church wedding, as she wished. She would never have consented to a divorce in the past and,” David looked straight at me, “she never will in the future.” I got the message.

“What happened after you were married?”

“I received my Ph.D. and we moved to a big house in Seattle with wall-to-wall carpeting, an all-electric kitchen, two cars in the garage and not a blade of crabgrass in the lawn.”

“And lived happily ever after?”

“Outwardly. Being a complete materialist, I suppose Arlene is reasonably happy. Her only interests are her current possessions and her anticipated possessions. If she mimeographed an inventory of everything we own plus everything I’ve promised to buy her, and distributed the list to her friends, she’d never need to open her mouth again. Arlene’s greatly impressed by my academic status, but it’s never occurred to her the flesh and blood professor she’s married to might want a little tenderness. My wife doesn’t think of sex as an expression of love or even animal passion; sex is a commodity she doles out in return for something. It’s like being in bed with a vending machine; I deposit my coins and Arlene gives me a few minutes – a very few minutes – of her time. God! That isn’t what I want. The strange thing is I’ve never been unfaithful to her … can you believe it after 23 years of that? I’m no saint; I’ve had the desire and I’ve had the opportunity, but somehow the two never coincided. So far as Arlene is concerned, my only functions are to give her an allowance, make the house payments and confer status on her. She’s indifferent to everything most precious to me – my work, books, sailing, music, everything. The worst part is our children aren’t much different. I’ve told you how I idolized my father, and I always assumed I’d have the same relationship with my own children. Well, I don’t. I don’t know whether to blame peer group culture, television, the schools, myself, all the above … or what. This is a terrible thing for a father to say, but they’re so … banal. I’ve tried to share my life with them, take them sailing, take them hiking, anything, but they’re simply not interested. They regard me as a superannuated dinosaur; they’re utterly bored by me and everything about me.”
“Watch.” David took his napkin, tore two strips from the paper and held them in front of me, an inch apart. “If you blow between the strips, what will happen?”
“They’ll fly apart, of course.”
“Try it.”
I blew and the strips swung together. “Wow! what made them do that?”
“It’s a demonstration of Bernoulli’s Principle, the law of physics that explains why birds and airplanes are able to fly. Moving air exerts less pressure than still air, so when you blew between the strips, the greater pressure on the outside pushed them together, just like the passage of air over a plane’s wing causes the wing to lift. Papa showed this to me when I was about eight. His demonstration excited me so much that I ran through the house performing the experiment for everyone – my mother, my little brother – who was too young to care – and the servants – who weren’t interested, either, but I was on fire. That sudden moment of understanding, that epiphany, is something I’ve never forgotten; Kate, it’s what I live for as a scientist, and when Michael was born I could hardly wait for the day when I could evoke the same sense of wonder in him. It never came.” David shook his head. “Maybe I’m not a good teacher.”
“Frank says you’re an outstanding teacher.”

David stopped for a moment as if considering his words. “I told you earlier my son is spending the night at a friend’s house; that’s not true. I didn’t want to spoil our evening by bringing this up, but it doesn’t matter now. I want to tell you. Michael was arrested for shoplifting this afternoon.”

“Oh, David!”

“Arlene called me at the office right after you left. He and another boy stole some tools from a hardware store. One of the clerks spotted them and phoned the police. Michael’s spending the night at Juvenile Hall.”

David passed his hand over his face. “I can’t express how I feel. What he did wasn’t merely dishonest, it was stupid, so incredibly stupid! If he came from a broken home, or a background which tolerated that sort of behavior, maybe I could understand, but …”

“Do you think his problems have anything to do with us?”

“No! And if I thought you were going to start blaming yourself I wouldn’t have told you. A boy doesn’t steal because his father goes sailing on Saturdays.”

“Did you go to the police station?”

“I drove home, picked up Arlene and we went together. She was screaming and carrying on a great deal, not that I blame her. She says everything’s my fault, I haven’t been a good father. I’ve tried, Kate, believe me, I’ve tried.” David’s voice broke. “He’s such a cocky kid; I want to love him, but he just spits in my face.”

“David, I’ve been wondering about something. When you sailed to Alaska last year … by yourself…did you go off and leave your wife and children here in Seattle?” This question had been gnawing on me for some time.

“I know what you’re thinking. I wouldn’t do that. Arlene spends every summer back in Boston with her family. She takes Marcia and Michael with her.”

“What’s your daughter like?”

“Marcia’s a pretty girl, too pretty. We never had any trouble with her until three years ago. Then she discovered boys and it’s been a constant fight ever since. The current boyfriend is nineteen; he dropped out of high school when he was a junior and hasn’t held a steady job since. But he’s good looking. Oh, yes, I’m assured on the highest authority this clod’s a real prize. It’s not enough that Marcy’s with him almost every evening. She’s started skipping school, too. A few weeks ago I went to the counselor to discuss her failing grades and he asked me how I expected her to do well when she’s never in class. I inquired what he meant and he showed me a whole sheaf of notes – notes for the dentist, notes for the doctor, notes she’d been sick. They were all signed with my name, but the handwriting wasn’t mine.”

David stared down at the table.

“How old is she?”

“Fifteen.”

Fifteen. When I was fifteen, we were living in Winnetka, Illinois, in a remodeled coach house on the shore of Lake Michigan. I entered New Trier High School as a junior in the middle of the year, a shy, lonely girl, awed by my wealthy classmates with their sports cars and cashmere sweaters. A short time after I started school, a neighbor’s daughter told me I’d never be accepted by the other students if I continued to wear white ankle socks and carry a zippered binder. I was stunned. If my classmates were that shallow I wasn’t interested in making friends with them, so I continued wearing white socks and carrying a zippered binder and retreated even farther into my shell. Marcy’s existence was light years away from anything I could imagine.

“Why do you let her go out with him if you don’t approve?”

“I have a choice? I can’t very well clap Marcy in leg-irons and shackle her to the wall. I tried forbidding her to go out; she locked her bedroom door and climbed out the window. I found them a couple blocks from our house … in the back seat of his car. You’re only four years older than she is … oh, God!”

David turned away abruptly and I realized he didn’t want me to see he was on the verge of tears.

“Well, there you have it,” he said, draining the last of the coffee from his cup, “the true life story of L. David Rosenau, Ph.D., probably a different version from the one you read in The Biography of American Scholars. Trite, isn’t it – middle-aged, white Jewish male suffering menopausal feelings of despondency and alienation.”

“I reached across the table and took his hand. “David, can we go to Sturmvogel?”

“Now? I’m afraid there’s no time. We’d have to start back as soon as we got to the marina.”

“I mean can we stay there overnight?”

David looked at me for a moment in surprise. “I’m sure my story’s affecting, but you don’t need to offer me physical therapy.”

I realized he wanted to treat my remark as a joke, but I persisted.

“Kate, we can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“I can think of a hundred good reasons. For starters, you signed out at the desk. If you’re not back by two or so, the housemother will call the police and there will be hell to pay when you do return. I can see the headlines now, ‘Missing Coed Found on Professor’s Yacht.’”

“I’ve already thought of that. You can take me back, I’ll sign in, change my clothes and then leave without signing the register. No one checks. Please say yes; I can’t bear saying goodbye to you, not tonight.”

David sighed. “My dear girl, hasn’t it occurred to you I have to go home?”

I looked down at the table, feeling foolish. It hadn’t occurred to me. We dropped the subject and David drove me back to Blaine Hall. We said goodnight near the entrance, in the shadow of a towering rhododendron; David put his arms around me and pressed me close against him.

“This evening turned out rather differently from what I planned. I can’t say it hasn’t been stressful, but it’s good to stick a knife in an abscess now and then to let the wound drain. Sometimes … I wish I could take an eraser and wipe the slate clean, cross out the last 25 years and start over.”

“I’m glad you can’t”

“Because?”

“Twenty-five years ago I wasn’t even born.”

David stepped back, as if getting ready to leave.

“Aren’t you going to kiss me goodnight?” I asked, surprised at my boldness.

“Are you the sort of girl who kisses a man goodnight on the first date?”
“No, but I can make an exception for you.”
He smiled and shook his head.

“Why not?”

David ran his index finger slowly down my forehead and nose and over my lips, as if tracing my profile.

“Because, dearest Catherine, if I kiss you I will lose my last tenuous vestige of self-restraint, and do you know what will happen then? I will throw you over my shoulder, carry you off to a cave and spend the next week making love to you.”

“Be serious. I meant what I said about going to Sturmvogel.”

“I am being serious. I know exactly what you meant, but I don’t want to pursue the subject. Kate, you know as well as I do there are certain boundaries we can’t cross, and it doesn’t help matters to have you tempting me. I barely have sufficient virtue for myself, let alone enough to spare for you, so let’s keep it light. Okay?”

“Okay. You mean I turned down the chili con carne for nothing?”

David laughed. “It looks that way.”
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